Queer Theory and Social Change

Queer Theory and Social Change

Queer Theory and Social Change

Queer Theory and Social Change

Synopsis

Queer Theory and Social Change argues that there is a crisis within Queer theory over whether or not its theories can actually deliver change.Max Kirsch presents a challenging alternative to the current fascination with post-modern analyses of identity, culture, and difference. It emphasizes the need for a discussion of the importance of communities and the role of globalization on queer movements.

Excerpt

The sense of our own identity is fluid and tolerant, whereas our sense of the identity of others is always more fixed and often edges towards caricature. We know within ourselves that we can be twenty different persons in a single day and that the attempt to explain our personality is doomed to become a falsehood after only a few words. To every remark made about our own personal characteristics we would want, in the interest of truth, quite disregarding vanity, to say, “yes, but…”, or “that may have been true once but it is true no longer”…

(A.N. Wilson, Incline Our Hearts, London: Penguin, 1990)

I am an anthropologist, a gay man, a white American, a university professor. We are now accustomed to hearing individuals identify themselves and their positions in this manner, clarifying presumed prejudices, experiences, and points of view. The identification assumes a certain responsibility in reportage: if I am a gay man, can I comment on the personal violence of racial inequality, or the lesbian experience? If I am a university professor, what is it that I can say about the lives of those who work in factories? These are questions of identity, but they are also positions of credibility. They limit what we can feel comfortable asserting for those unlike ourselves, the abstraction of the “other” that has become the object of so much debate in contemporary social thought. But what we now also hear in attempts at positioning the self is the negation of description: we do not feel comfortable being labeled at all, at marking our personal experiences by applying assumptions that limit our possibilities of being or becoming. We have, therefore, also become accustomed to another kind of assertion, one that posits the limits of assuming identity at all. It is found in statements about personal composition but against labeling and identity—“I am gay, not gay; American, not American; an academic, not an academic.” Those who accept the former, or “meta-identity,” position argue that “I do not feel comfortable in commenting on who I am not and what I do not know.” The latter, or “quasi-identity,” formulation asserts independence, leading to statements of “I do not feel comfortable being told who I am. I cannot comment on the situation of others, whose experience I cannot know.”

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